Hillsdale’s aspirations for a conference championship suffered a setback on Saturday, as the Chargers fell at home to the University of Findlay, 31-13.
Findlay (6-1, 3-0 G-MAC), is tied for first place in the G-MAC with Ohio Dominican University (3-3, 3-0). Hillsdale (3-4, 1-2) has four games, all against conference opponents, remaining on its schedule.
Since beginning the season 2-0, the Chargers have lost four of their last five contests.
“Sometimes in football, as in life, you get to a point where you’re not where you want to be, but you have to make the best of where you’re at,” head coach Keith Otterbein said. “The opportunity is there to finish with four straight wins.”
In a matchup that featured the G-MAC’s top two offenses, Findlay kept Hillsdale off the board in the first two quarters, and led 17-0 at halftime. The Oilers held the Chargers to just 71 total yards of offense in the first half.
In the end, Findlay possessed the ball for more than 37 minutes, while Hillsdale had the ball for just more than 22 minutes.
“We’ve never had that lopsided of time of possession,” Otterbein said. “We had opportunities to throw it, catch it, get some first downs, but we didn’t necessarily execute it. We didn’t have very many snaps in the first half.”
The Chargers’ defense often limited damage, but allowed more than 30 points for a fourth consecutive week. Hillsdale forced one turnover, but its offense turned the ball over twice. When the Chargers force as many or more turnovers as their opponent this season, they’re 3-0. When they lose the turnover battle, they’re 0-4.
The Oilers’ ability to contain Hillsdale’s offensive weapons was also key to its defensive effort.
Sophomore running back David Graham carried the ball eight times for just 32 yards, his lowest output in a game this season. For the first time this year, he didn’t rush for a touchdown.
Findlay limited the Chargers’ offense to just 34 total yards on the ground. Before week seven, Hillsdale hadn’t been held under 105 rushing yards in a game this season. Because Findlay took an early lead, the Chargers had to throw the ball more in order to move more quickly down the field on offense.
“We were dominating in the run-blocking scheme,” senior offensive lineman Danny Drummond said. “What was unfortunate was when you get behind, you can’t really run the ball as much.”
Junior quarterback Chance Stewart completed 15 of 35 passes for 272 yards. He threw two touchdowns and one interception.
“When it came down to it, we just didn’t really play a good football game,” Stewart said. “We needed to take our game to the next level. I had to make smarter decisions at a much quicker rate. Credit to them, they’re a great defense.”
The Oilers pressured Stewart the entire afternoon. One of their five sacks resulted in a fumble by Stewart, which Findlay recovered in Hillsdale’s territory.
“They dialed up some blitzes that we couldn’t block schematically,” Drummond said. “They didn’t necessarily blitz a whole lot more than some of the teams that we’ve faced, but they just happened to pick the right blitzes at the right time.”
On the contrary, the Chargers’ defense struggled to make plays in Findlay’s backfield. Junior defensive lineman Charlie Yost recorded Hillsdale’s only sack in the game.
“It takes a lot off our defensive backs when we’re able to get pressure on the quarterback and make him scramble around and make quick decisions,” Yost said. “Findlay’s quarterback was getting the ball off very fast so it wasn’t easy for our line to get a lot of pressure.”
The Oilers’ top-ranked rushing offense recorded 167 yards and three touchdowns on the ground. Findlay entered the weekend averaging nearly 300 yards on the ground per game.
“Our run defense has been great all year,” Yost said. “I don’t think we strayed away from the challenge. Give credit to the defensive tackles on the inside. They did a great job plugging up the gaps.”
With plenty of time for receivers to get open, the Oilers added 332 yards in the passing game.
“They had two really good receivers, one was an All-American last year,” sophomore defensive back Jason McDonough said. “You try and weather the storm, knowing they’re going to make their plays, but you’ve just gotta keep going and keep pushing.”
Junior wide receiver Trey Brock led the Chargers’ wideouts with four receptions and 100 yards. Despite not catching a pass in the first half, he exceeded the century mark in receiving yards for a fourth time this year. He leads the G-MAC with 53 receptions and 867 yards this season. Brock caught a 57-yard touchdown pass from Stewart in the third quarter to get Hillsdale on the scoreboard.
Findlay responded immediately with a touchdown, set up by a long kick return, to make the score 24-7. Otterbein said aside from that return, the Chargers’ special teams unit performed valiantly.
“I thought we played great on special teams,” Otterbein said. “We covered well and kicked well. We were down there against pretty good athletes and made some plays.”
Senior tight end Austin Adams caught his first touchdown of the year, an 18-yard reception in the fourth quarter. The Chargers’ offense moved the ball much better in the second half, but three times in the final quarter, it stalled on a failed fourth down attempt. Two of those came inside the Oilers’ 15-yard line.
“In the second half, we stayed out of some third-and-long situations, whereas in the first half it seemed like we were third-and-long every time,” Stewart said. “We didn’t make a ton of adjustments, we just played at a higher level in the second half and that’s why we were able to move the ball a little better.”
Junior wide receiver Austin Sandusky added three receptions for 76 yards, his most productive game this season. He also returned four kickoffs for 115 yards. Sandusky broke off a 44-yard kick return in the first quarter, the longest a Charger has returned a kick all year.
McDonough continued his breakout campaign on defense, recording seven tackles and an interception, his second of the season. He also broke up a pass in the secondary. McDonough’s pick was timely, as it came near Hillsdale’s goal line with Findlay’s offense knocking on the door in the second quarter.
Junior defensive back Wyatt Batdorff led the defense with 10 total tackles, and junior linebacker Dan Shanley made nine stops. Batdorff, Shanley, and McDonough are the Chargers’ top three tacklers this season, respectively.
The Chargers remain at home this weekend, when they host Walsh University (2-5, 2-1). Walsh has won its last two games after beginning the season 0-5. Last season, the Chargers defeated the Cavaliers, 28-10.
“Our seniors deserve to go out 7-4,” McDonough said. “We have a talented team this year. We’re just focusing on what we can control. Winning out is all we’ve got on our minds.”
Drummond is one of those seniors who would like to finish his career at Hillsdale on a high note.
“We haven’t quite reached our potential as a team yet,” Drummond said. “But we have four more games left, and we’re going to win these last four games.”